How to Pair Good Beer With Good Food

Follow the three C's to find the perfect beer for any meal

Indian food paired with beer
Greg Elms/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

For many, the idea of pairing food with drink means wine but pairing beer and food seems a little less refined. Yet once you begin, you will find that beer goes with a lot more than your local pub's pizza and hot wings. In fact, beer is far more congenial than wine for many foods.

The ease with which beer marries with almost any dish in any cuisine might seem to make conscious pairing a waste of time. However, putting the right beer with the right dish can create a transcendent dining experience and completely change your perceptions about using one to complement the other.

Why Is Beer Perfect for Food Pairings?

Beer is very forgiving. It would be difficult to find a combination with very negative effects; a problem that seems to crop up too regularly with one in considering wine and food. Prohibitions like the no-fish-with-red-wine rule simply do not exist when pairing with beer. 

Also, as we look at the growth of beer thanks largely to the craft beer revolution of recent years, there are endless possibilities to choose from. One brewer's IPA may be suited to a steak dinner though not quite as perfect as that of the brewer down the street. The beer world is immense and the potential for finding great beer and food pairings is an endless pursuit.

The main thing to remember when pairing is 'The Three C's': complement, contrast and cleanse. 

The Three C's of Food and Beer Pairing

Use one or two of the Three C's and your pairing will be a hit.

Complement

Choose beer with a similar profile to that of the dish.

If it is a sweet or fruity dessert, then a pale beer brewed with fruit like an apricot wheat beer or a framboise lambic (a Belgian raspberry beer) should do nicely. If the dish is a grilled steak, then beers with similar flavors like a rauchbier or a porter will make the perfect complement.

Contrast

Contrasting a beer’s flavors against a dish can be equally satisfying and often more memorable.

Serving a subtle and ​sweet American wheat beer with a spicy Thai or Indian dish can work to balance some of the hotter flavors of the meal. For those milder meals like the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, choose a flavor-filled Oktoberfest or brown ale.

Cleanse

This one is easiest because most the carbonation naturally makes most beers ideal options for cleansing the palate. Rich or fatty foods such and pizza and barbecue are best paired with pilsners because of all the carbonation. 

Imagine beer’s cleansing role as having the same effect as serving a refreshing sorbet between courses. This changes the purpose of beer from being just a beverage with which to wash down food and presents some interesting possibilities. Sour beers like Flanders Red, Berliner Weisse as well as many Belgium brews perform especially well in this role.